Shaking the Family Tree

“I need your help with a school project,” said Sarah.

“Oh?” asked Ruth.

“I’m working on our family tree. Mom took me to the cemetery where your parents are buried so I could research dates.”

“I see,” Ruth muttered, hunching over Sarah’s binder of notes.

“I saw a grave for a little boy, only a few months old. His grave was next to your parents, and he had the same last name. Can you tell me anything about him?”

“Some things are best forgotten,” she said, slamming the binder shut and excusing herself from the table.


Beth inherited a cozy little cottage in a seaside village when her great aunt, Patty, passed away. That’s how the attorney described it at least. She hadn’t seen Aunt Patty for more than ten years when they both attended her parents’ funeral after a car accident.

It sounded like the perfect place to start over. Beth finalized a nasty divorce only a month ago, and she felt burnt out with her job on the anemic local police force. She needed to get away for a while.

Beth assumed her boss felt guilty for making her miss the funeral because it surprised her when he approved her request for time off. She took it as a sign, packed her bags, and drove north to New England, not stopping along the way despite the half a day’s drive.

“Cozy little cottage my ass,” Beth said as she pulled up to the property. It looked nothing like she imagined after talking to the lawyer. Shutters dangled on loose nails. The walls showed more exposed wood than paint. And overgrown hedges nearly blocked the path to the front door, which might have been a good thing because the gate on the picket fence had fallen off its hinges.

Beth couldn’t turn around and leave then, or she would have. She needed to rest after the long drive. I’ll just stay the night, she thought to herself. I’ll sort through some of Aunt Patty’s things tomorrow, and then I’ll go home.

The cottage’s interior rivaled what she saw outside. Floors creaked with every step. Much of the antique furniture sat in disrepair. She saw a puddle near one of the windows. No one thought to close it when her aunt’s body was taken away, despite it being the rainy season. Beth closed the window and rolled her luggage to the bedroom.

She turned on a lamp. I guess this is where Aunt Patty died, she thought. Just an observation, as Beth wasn’t easily creeped out. I might as well get started. The sooner I go through this stuff, the sooner I can leave and have it put on the market. She had no interest in making the fixer-upper a more permanent residence.

Beth started with the bedroom closet. She neatly folded Aunt Patty’s clothes, boxing them up for Goodwill. She came across some old family photos and other mementos from Aunt Patty’s, and her grandmother’s, childhood. I should hold onto these, she thought as she set them near her suitcase.

She went through the nightstand drawer next, finding some empty pill bottles but not much else. From the labels she could tell Aunt Patty suffered from a heart condition before her death.

By that point, several hours had passed and Beth felt drained. But the only thing left to go through in the bedroom was a secretary desk, so she pressed on.

The desk drawers overflowed with personal papers, from old letters to paid bills. Beth sorted them into two piles, things she could throw away and things she should keep for a while, like utility bills for accounts she would need to cancel.

As Beth began to close the secretary, another paper caught her eye, tucked tightly between the last mail slot and the edge of the desk. How did that get there? Beth wondered.

She removed the piece of paper and unfolded it. Her eyes widened as she read.

The paper contained her aunt’s handwritten will, signed by Aunt Patty and her lawyer just days before her death. But this will wasn’t the same one the lawyer showed her. It didn’t only leave her the cottage. It seemed Aunt Patty went on a casino trip with some of her church friends several months earlier, and she won big. Despite her modest surroundings, Aunt Patty was worth millions, and she left it all to Beth, her last living relative.

Beth took another look at the pill bottles in the nightstand drawer. A wave of sadness overcame her. Sadness, and anger. She unpacked her suitcase. She wouldn’t head home the next day. She would make herself cozy here after all. In the morning she would meet with her colleagues from the local police department. That, and she would confront Aunt Patty’s lawyer.

Falling Off the Wagon

A crowd gathered around The Wagon Wheel, a hundred foot tall ferris wheel at the Franklin County Fair. A passenger, twenty eight year old Rory Daniels, fell from one of the upper gondolas to his death.

The other passengers remained on the ride until police arrived to question witnesses. All the passengers stayed except Rosemary Wynn that is.

Rosemary, Daniels’ girlfriend, rode with him when he fell. The attendant let her off The Wagon Wheel, concerned keeping her on the ride in her hysterical state might result in another accident.

At least he assumed it was an accident. That’s what the police came to find out.

The Wagon Wheel’s record was clean: no injuries and no deaths, until that night. The gondolas didn’t pose a risk, as long as you followed the rules. No standing. No leaning over the edge. No shaking or swinging your car. For an accident like this to happen, the victim or someone else on the ride had to ignore those safety precautions. The police needed to investigate anyway.

They spoke to Rosemary first. She gave her account of what happened.

“I asked him to stop. I begged him to stop.”

“Stop what?” asked the officer in charge.

“Stop shaking the car.” She paused, trying to fight back tears. She lost that fight. “I asked him to stop shaking the damn car. He knew I was terrified of heights.”

“Then why did you get on the ride?” asked the officer.

“I didn’t want to. Rory wanted to go on The Wheel before we left, and they don’t let you get on alone.”

The officer looked at the ride’s operator who nodded to confirm the “no single riders” policy.

“I asked him to stop,” Rosemary said again. Her tears flowed harder as the emergency medical personnel moved Rory’s covered body into an ambulance. “I screamed at him to stop, but he wouldn’t quit messing around.”

It was clear he wouldn’t get much else out of the traumatized girlfriend, so the officer left her with a colleague while he talked to other passengers. Those not in a position to see or hear anything from their seats were sent on their way.

He started by talking to the riders in the cars on either side of Rory and Rosemary’s. They both confirmed Rosemary’s account of her shouting at her boyfriend. But other than hearing her screaming “Stop!” they couldn’t offer more insight into the conversation. Neither could view the victim’s gondola from their positions above and below. The riders above didn’t even realize what happened until the cars rotated so Rosemary could get off the ride.

The only other passengers who witnessed anything included three high school students whose car sat across from them, on the other side of the wheel. They heard Rosemary screaming but sat too far away to hear what she said. The girls did notice the car shaking though, with both Rory and Rosemary on their feet.

“I think they were fighting,” said one of the girls. The other two shook their heads in agreement.

“She was holding on,” said the second teen. “He kept grabbing her arms.”

“Maybe he tried to scare her,” said the last of the friends. “Like something my idiot brother might do. Then he fell.”

The officer glanced at the other girls and they continued to nod, signaling they witnessed the same incident. It sounded to him like Rory’s death was nothing more than an accident with a young man horsing around trying to freak out his girlfriend. He fell backwards out of the gondola while she held on and begged him to stop.

After offering condolences to Rosemary, the officer sent her home.

He went back to the scene the next day to meet with members of the forensics team. Mechanical failure and negligence on the part of the fair staff needed to be ruled out. But with consistent witness statements it seemed, to him, like an open and shut case.

That opinion was about to change.

Not fifty feet away from The Wagon Wheel, he noticed a familiar face: Rosemary’s. He didn’t think anything of it at first. She was just a grieving girlfriend, visiting the place where she last saw her boyfriend alive.

Then he caught it. A hint of a smile crossed her face before she finished off an ice cream cone and got in line for the fair’s biggest attraction, The Wooden Racer. It was the fair’s roller coaster, the tallest one in the state.

The List

“What’s this?” Maggie asked. “I wanted the blue bag. Why can’t you ever follow the grocery list?”

“I’ll go back,” said Rick.

“Forget it. I’ll go.” She stormed out, returning thirty minutes later.

“I made dinner,” said Rick. They ate his new recipe, chicken satay.

Ten minutes later Maggie grabbed her throat, struggling to breath. The whites of her eyes turned red, her skin pale. She stopped breathing. Rick cleaned up dinner before calling 911.

“Did she eat anything recently?” asked the medic.

“She just came home. Then she couldn’t breathe. Maybe she ate out.”

“Any allergies?”

“Just peanuts.”

The Big Win

Grandpa’s funeral occurred not even two weeks ago. Mom recently lost her job. And my parents forced Grandma to move out of her home, and in with us, because they didn’t think she could take care of herself without Grandpa. The atmosphere in the Tucker household was solemn at best.

That made it all the more surprising when dad came home from work looking ecstatic, calling for a family meeting.

Mom, Dad, Grandma, my brothers Frank and Bill, and I gathered in the living room for the big news.

“We won!” shouted Dad. “We friggin’ won!” He bounced around like an excited school boy.

“We won what?” asked Mom.

“The lottery! We won the lottery. With all the crap this family has been through, we finally caught a break. We won the damn lottery! Three million dollars!”

Dad’s frozen grin stared back at us as we all sat in stunned silence.

“No way,” said Frank. “You read the numbers wrong.”

“Yeah,” said Bill. “Let us see the ticket.”

Dad ran into the kitchen.

“Where is it?” he yelled from the other room. “Susan, where did you put the ticket?”

“I didn’t put it anywhere,” said Mom. “I read you the numbers when you called this morning, but I didn’t move it.”

Dad stormed back into the living room.

“Alice, Mom, boys.” He paused, looking each of us in the eye, one by one. “Where is the lottery ticket I stuck on the fridge?”

My brothers and I shrugged, and grandma flipped the television on, bored with her son’s tantrum. That’s when we saw the six o’clock news.

“A local church received a surprising gift today,” said the anchor. “An anonymous donor left a winning lottery ticket for the preacher — a ticket worth three million dollars. The church plans to use the money for much-needed repairs and outreach programs for the poor.”

My dad’s eyes looked like they might pop out of his head. I thought he might faint. His eyes darted around the room, wondering who robbed him of his big win.

I didn’t. My mom wouldn’t without consulting my dad first. And while my brothers always looked guilty of something, I doubted it was either of them. No, only one person could have donated the lottery ticket.

Grandma grinned, fixated on the local preacher gushing thanks on TV. She showed dad that day. Grandma was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and still able to teach her son an occasional lesson.